Recovery Road: New Addictive Drama for the Family (Review) January 2016 ABC Freeform


Recovery Road is a new show for ABC Freeform nee’ Family, which follows a teenaged addict who is forced to enter a halfway house for recovering “junkies.” Offered the chance attend a teen focussed group or to live at a home for adult addicts, the girl choses the latter.  At first glance this can be seen as just another propaganda machination for kids.

A cautionary tale where the mantra could be seen as a variant on “Just say no.”  This is not the case however.  Starring Jessica Sula (Skins, Honeytrap) as Maddie, Sharon Leal (Addicted, Freedom) as her mum Charlotte, David Witts (Eastenders, Dead Crazy) as Craig and Alexa Carra as Cynthia (Mixology, The Answer) the show follows Maddie’s journey to self realization, sobriety and learning about other addicts.

Recovery Road also looks at others in the house, Maddie’s friends, and her relationships with her boyfriend and a former best-friend and fellow addict  Rebecca (Lindsay Pearce). It was all too easy to dismiss this new show as a night-time “after-school special” sort of program. However, after watching the first screener for the new show, which will air January 2016, the show became almost compulsive viewing. 

Surprisingly, the cast is made up of types, a more polite way of saying stereotypes, but these, as a part of this ensemble piece, work.  The show’s protagonist is not a “type” though. Maddie, whose father died in a car crash, goes to school and parties hard. The pilot episode shows the girl passed out, face down in a front yard. The garden’s sprinkler systems start and she wakes up and  staggers home.

A plastic water bottle is found in her school locker and it is full of vodka. She is asked to blow into a breathalyzer and Maddie registers .12 BAC. Rather than be expelled, Maddie agrees to  Cynthia’s alternative, a halfway home, after the teen goes through detox where she will share her journey to sobriety with adults.

The blend of different age groups, although there are no really “old” addicts in the house the oldest being in their mid-30s, works well for the show. Maddie is the youngest, but only just. The teen’s roomie is a college-age single mother obsessed with becoming famous on a reality TV show and getting her daughter back.

Trish Collins, is a bubble-headed young mother who obsesses over getting her daughter back and getting on the reality television show “Fool House” (like Big Brother but “trashier”). Played by Kyla Pratt (who has been working steadily since 1993 and starred in all three Dr. Dolittle films as Maya the youngest daughter) Trish has a Butterfly McCall voice and infectious enthusiasm that immediately endears the young addict to the viewer. 

Charlotte, Maddie’s widowed mother feels alone, lonely, confused and annoyed that she missed all the signals. Leal totally convinces as the troubled teen’s mother. So too does Sula as the daughter with a taste for all things narcotic and alcoholic.

Daniel Franzese is Vern, the Grizzly sized “very gay” addict with the heart and soul of a Care Bear and best friend to Cynthia.  David Witts as the calm and collected head of the house may feel a bit out of place, like an addict version of Giles perhaps, but the actor feels as convincing as the rest of the show.

Which is to say, very convincing. The show is addictive viewing. After watching the first screener, it was impossible not to watch the next and then the next.  Recovery Road feels like a brilliant and more mature alternative to the wildly popular Brit television show Skins (which Sula worked on for two seasons); a show all about teen drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, teen sex and enough angst to sink a battleship.

Recovery Road, by the third episode,  surprised this viewer into schmaltzy  tears  at least twice,  While simultaneously reaching for a tissue and cursing the writers, and cast, for hitting where it hurts, this show became an immediate favorite.

The show airs January on ABC Freeform, which is the network’s new “with it” moniker, and this is one to watch for.  Great performances from all concerned, after watching three episodes not one actor was seen to  put a foot wrong and some damned impressive writing.

In a matter of moments, these characters become people that the one cares about.  Quite an accomplishment since this viewer was prepared to hate the show at first sight.

Recovery Road is not too preachy and shows the pressures that a teen with substance abuse issues faces on a daily basis. Entertainment with a message that does not club one over the head with it. Tune in and watch this and see what you think. If not for the storyline, then for the acting and writing. Top of the shelf stuff this and not to be missed.

Gotham: Worse Than a Crime (Review) Nigh-on Perfect in Every Way


Aw Gotham. How do I love thee? Worse than a Crime was season two’s most epic episode to date with everything being nigh-on perfect in every way.  From the lovely twist(s) in relation to the Bruce Wayne and Silver St Cloud storyline, to the Sam Peckinpah “walk” where this “Wild Bunch” are made up of an army of shotguns versus four.  Granted, it stood to reason that young Master Wayne was not going to die, Bruno Heller would not go that far, but the episode practically sang a pitch-perfect tale of madness and comedy.

Sean Pertwee, as Alfred got the lion’s share of the comedic moments.

  1. Hiding in the freezer only to have a ton of additional rubbish dumped on the lid after escaping Tabby and her henchmen, “Oh bloody hell…”
  2. Apologizing to the driver he has just pulled out of the car that Alfred wishes to commandeer only to be tased in the  puss by one of GCPD’s finest.
  3. Interrupting Penguin’s diatribe about how Galavan must die:  “Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. Can we just stop the “Bunny” and get in there chaps?”

*Sidenote* In English (as in the Queen’s English) to “Rabbit on” is to talk too much or too long. It is also the name of a song by Chas and Dave (1981) titled “Rabbit” about a girlfriend who talks too much…

Nygma, played with such maniacal panache by Cory Michael Smith, also has his fair share of amusing moments. The duet he sings with Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor)  with that smile and later when he tells Lee “Is your lover-man alive? Go to Grundy. 805.” In every instance, in this episode, Smith exudes a clear delight in his schizophrenic madness whenever he is on screen that is just so compelling. All the more so in his later scenes with Bullock and Fox.

Stand out moments:

Lee: “Don’t speak.”

Lee arguing with her “lover-man” in front of Penguin and his evil minion:

Lee: “You’re on the run from the law. You want to attack the mayor with the help of a depraved sociopath. That’s not crazy?

Penguin: “I can hear you.”

Lee: :Shh! Don’t speak.” 

Tabitha “owning” Theo. Not once, but twice.

Young Bruce Wayne “owning” Silver.  It is obvious that Alfred clearly underestimated his young charge’s abilities dramatically when he warned the boy that he was not able to deal with Silver’s deceptive qualities. The kid is a “playa…”

Speaking of the ladies who are loyal to young Wayne, Cat’s helping to get the gang into Galavan’s lair was also special, that look she drops Alfred…

Her look says it all…

Last, but not least, the shot of Galavan’s lifeless body being “unwrapped” by Ms, Peabody with Penguin’s umbrella shoved halfway down Theo’s throat.

While singing the praises of this particular Gotham storyline finale,  mad props go to director Jeffrey G. Hunt who “got it in one.” It also needs to be pointed out that despite Bruno Heller’s need to play fast and loose with the Batman verse, pre the caped crusader, there was no real suspense in the episode. Bruce Wayne was not going to die, nor was Alfred…although it was  bit iffy there for a little while.


May Michael Chiklis’ character not wake up from Penguin’s perfectly timed bash in the head. Captain Barnes is getting old very fast, like the dinosaur he so resembles the new captain needs to be retired…yesterday.

Who is doing Morena Baccarin‘s makeup?? Was there a conscious decision to make her look like a younger Teri Hatcher? Morena is a gorgeous actress who does need to be remade into an “escapee from Desperate Housewives” lookalike.

Kudos on allowing Harvey Bullock the punch line of the episode. The gag; all the good guys and bad ones, having to take what looks like an eternal staircase up to save Bruce Wayne from being executed by the mad monks of Dumas.  Partway up, Bullock stops, breathing heavily and says he catch up.

After all the monks have been killed, or shot, the head chap leaps toward Gordon and is shot mid-leap by Bullock (Donal Logue) who has just arrived in the room. With a slight grin, Bullock says:

“That was a lot of stairs.”

Harvey gets the punch line…

Bravo to Heller, the writers and the cast for killing it in this episode.  How can one not adore Ben MacKenzie’s Jim Gordon? At the end of the episode, before the umbrella reveal, Gordon is sitting on a bench with his paramour and in the least romantic way possible asks Lee to marry him. She smiles, but does not answer…

Does the dark man who shot Galavan, allowed Penguin to beat his mother’s murderer to a pulp with a baseball bat and teamed up with gangsters to save Bruce Wayne really think Lee will say yes?

Thinking about it, he probably does.  Heller and MacKenzie have given us a pre-role model that could have given a grown up Bruce Wayne lessons in being dark,  torn and twisted inside while fighting for justice.  One last observation/question: Did anyone else break out in goosebumps when Mr. Freeze showed up at the end?

Gotham airs Mondays on FOX. Tune in for the madness and near perfection with an unforgettable cast of characters.

American Crime: Season Two Premiere Looks Intense


John Ridley, who is a solid winner with awards and winning projects to prove his talent as creator, gives American Crime a second season with a  premiere that looks intense and uncomfortable. It includes Issues that deal  with teen sexuality, a clear class system in the American educational system and  racial issues.  In the opening episode a mother’s son is temporarily “expelled”  after “inappropriate” pictures of the boy turn up on social media.

Taylor Blaine (Falling Skies’ Connor Jessup) is shown drunk and partially dressed.  When his mother (Lili Taylor) learns of the expulsion and the pictures she is outraged and upset. Talking to her son she learns that the boy was drugged and sexually assaulted. Going to Taylor’s school, she speaks to the headmaster, played by Felicity Huffman, who then asks the basketball coach (Timothy Hutton) to investigate the charges. 

American Crime is following the example of American Horror Story; that Ryan Murphy created, and will offer up many actors from the first season as different characters in a completely different storyline.  Huffman, who played Barb Hanlon in season one is back and Hutton, who played Russ Skokie, has also returned.

Timothy Hutton returns as does Felicity Huffman in season two of American Crime.
Timothy Hutton returns as does Felicity Huffman in season two of American Crime.

The premiere starts the second season by  offering drama with a capital D.  Questions of ethics, class divides in the school system, as well as society, and school officials who are anxious to cover up any hint of a scandal makes for heavy duty television.

It is all too easy to become swept up in the storyline and it would be a hard hearted viewer who does not empathize with both Taylor and his bewildered mother.  Each of the characters introduced come with a bag full of issues. The episode offers up dysfunctional families, parents struggling to deal with their children’s issues and a closing of the ranks by a prestigious school more concerned with its reputation than justice for an the victim.

Anyone not having seen the first season of American Crime  can tell by the caliber of the performers in the show  alone that this will be one powerhouse season. With three actors on the roster that are award winning;  Hutton has an Oscar for his performance in the 1980 film Ordinary People, and Hoffman was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in Transamerica. Lili Taylor has a multitude of awards as well.

Watching the premiere, of episode 201,  it is immediately clear that if a television series could have a pedigree, American Crime would be that show.   Serious, deep and disturbing, the second season will become necessary water cooler TV for 2016. Tune in and catch the premiere on January 6, 2016. Prepare to be impressed, disturbed and to think.

Agent X: Truth, Lies and Consequences (Review)


Perhaps the best thing that can be said about this week’s Agent X: Truth, Lies and Consequences is the cameo by former  Hunter star Fred Dryer, all that was needed to make this a complete fanboy moment would have been the presence of Dryer’s co-star from the small screen version of “Dirty Harry” Stepfanie Kramer.  In terms of guest starring cameos, even though Dryer is not on long, Fred has not lost his ease and conviction in front of the camera.

The storyline this week has John Case (Jeff Hephner) being exposed to a biological agent which induces a heart attack to those infected by “Husk” after 12 hours.  This gives the vice president’s agent a very limited time to catch the villains responsible and to stop them from infecting thousands of innocent civilians. 

Sharon Stone, as Natalie Maccabee, widow and new vice president to John Shea‘s President Eckhart, seems to be trapped into underplaying her government official to the maximum extent possible.  While this somnambulistic approach works well in many cases on the big screen, it makes for a pretty underwhelming experience on television.

The main problem may well be that Stone is the mast which this series has been hoist upon, in other words, she is the draw…the figurehead, the “name” meant to pull in  viewers. With little to do, apart from assigning her agent to various “world saving missions” the star, who has, incidentally, massive acting chops, is being dangerously underused.

Thus far, her “right-hand man” Gerald McRaney as Malcolm Millar is infinitely more entertaining and watchable. Take the episode open where Case is annihilating the practice dummies in his workout room. Millar comes in and stares down at Agent X beating the thing into submission.

Millar to Case: “Hey! You keep killing em all, we’ll never get any intel.”

McRaney specializes in these type of roles, the sage and clever advisor who has seen it all and done it all and can crack a decent joke about it.  However, having a righthand man who can dominate a scene does not help Stone, or the show since McRaney is never on screen that much or that often.

Leaving aside shortfalls of the cast’s main protagonists, or misuse of same, the plot has Case rushing to save the day while turning down help, in the form of an anecdote, which will keep him from dying. Sadly we as viewers have not yet bonded enough with Hephner’s John Case to be too worried about his possible demise.

The threat of an airborne virus to be released from a rocket also never really takes off either. A young woman, whose whistle-blower parents were murdered by the government to keep their biological weapon in their control may be a variation on an old theme, but not enough of one to make a difference.

The viewer does not connect with the woman who wants revenge, or her nerdish “boyfriend” that she uses to make her weapon work.  This year has seen a plethora of “nebbish” young men in other shows, NBC’s The Player to mention just one, and it is awfully early in the season to see this much “lack of originality” in a storyline.

Agent X does have some things going for it. Unfortunately none of them were apparent in this episode.  The writers,  under the guidance of show creator W. Blake Herron have given us a hero in peril too soon. We have not yet warmed to this taciturn secret agent/assassin who is the agent of good for the vice president.

Bring back Olga Petrovka (Olga Fonda) , a  bigger than life villain who has an uneasy alliance, and great chemistry, with Hephner. These two maintain interest when they share the screen and please, would someone wake Sharon Stone up, or give her some decent lines?  At the very least…More McRaney please.

Agent X airs Sundays on TNT. Tune in and see what you think of the sleepwalking vice president and her “pet” agent.

The Librarians: And the Infernal Contract (Review) Colonel Baird to the Rescue


The Librarians: And the Infernal Contract focusses on Colonel Baird (Rebecca Romijn) and features John de Lancie (best known for his recurring role as the omnipotent Q in Star Trek)  and as a variation on his career defining character, instead of portraying an all powerful being, he, in essence, the devil.  The urge to “be cute” with the show’s theme, “The Devil is in the Deal” may be the best one, as Baird not only comes to the rescue, but learns her true purpose as  “guardian” of the librarians.

The episode begins with a young lady running from some unseen menace. She ends up in a hotel room where a burning hole appears in the ceiling to suck the women up and out of her sanctuary.  Colonel Baird is in the town, visiting an old colleague and friend, and the librarians show up after being directed to the place by the library’s clippings.

Before John de Lancie shows up, each of the librarians have a chance to do a few comic turns.  Lindy Booth does a Charlotte La Bouff impression (from Disney’s The Princess and the Frog 2009) when she squeakily refers to John Larroquette’s caretaker as “Big Daddy,” and Christian Kane does an English accent.

Comic turns aside the plot can be seen as variation on The Devil and Daniel Webster or even Faust.  Nods to classic tales of “soul selling” and deals with the devil aside, Romijn’s character explains to her friend, former Captain Denning (Michael Trucco), that “magic is real” and that the librarians are there to control it.

A small town politician, Jefferson Keating (Matt Nolan) is running against Denning for mayor, and he has signed a contract with “Mr. Sesselman” who has set up contracts with the politician’s family for decades.  Each Keating signatory has been successful at the price of a major catastrophe in the town.

The librarians learn of Sesselman and go to  retrieve the contract and save the town from the latest disaster which will affect the burg’s citizens.

This week’s episode was one that defined the characters of both Eve Baird and Ezekiel Jones.  It is pointed out by Jake Stone (Kane) that Jones is turning into a good guy versus the thief he was before.  Jenkins points out that Baird is not there to save the librarians’ lives but their souls. It is also pointed out, somewhat fittingly by Ezekiel, that “The colonel sees the good in everyone.”

It is always a treat to see award winning actor John de Lancie on any program. The performer has been on several different versions of the Star Trek verse and, on an interesting note, another Star Trek alumnus Jonathan Frakes (Commander William T. Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation where de Lancie played Q eight times through the series’ seven seasons) directs this particular episode.

Before the end credits roll, Baird saves, Jake, Cassandra and Ezekiel as well as her old friend Sam.  Jenkins turns out to be far from just an eccentric caretaker and more of a formidable foe, for Sesselman, at least on a temporary basis, although it is Eve that defeats the “devil.”

The Librarians continues to be a show that specializes in family fun and entertainment that does not rely upon gore or gratuitous violence to make a show that is a must see for a Sunday evening on TNT.  This episode left the running storyline of Prospero and Moriarty, as well as Carson Flynn (Noah Wyle) out of the proceedings.

Rather interestingly, Jenkins reveals that Eve is there not to protect the librarians from dying, but she is, instead, there to keep them from falling for the temptation of the facility itself and the magic it contains. He tells Baird that Flynn’s predecessor did not die, he was lost to the library’s magic.

Tune in on Sunday for G rated entertainment on TNT and enjoy the magic of the show and its cast.



Quantico: Guilty – Wait a Minute…What?


Quantico: Guilty follows up nicely from last week’s episode of Over. Oded Fehr turns up a an interrogator for HIG (What ever that stands for), Anne Hecht (in what could be seen as a sort of skewed type casting) plays an M.E. who Simon turns in for falsifying evidence and Alex pleads guilty to the charges read by a grim faced judge…Wait a minute…What?

The show was doing well, with its mystery of who set up Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra) with a long list of suspects, each more convincingly laid out than the previous.  Caleb Haas, Liam O’Connor and the rest were all prime suspects and now, after a “last minute” save by Liam, Alex is free from uber baddy Griffin Wells (Fehr) and Ryan has been saved from another double-fingered invasion by the president’s interrogator. 

Caleb, turns out to have been a “good guy” all along and he discovers the missing link that helps to get Alex off the hook.  The Nimah “twins” work to help prove what Haas Jr has found is correct and it is all “happy families” by the end of the impromptu investigation by the “we believe Alex team.”


Liam, who still seems pretty dubious as “hero” tells Alex that whoever framed her needs to believe that she has rolled over and confessed. Parrish being behind bars will trick the real terrorist into making a mistake and will lead the authorities to the other bomb.  In the flashback sequence, where Simon (Tate Ellington) almost gets an air bubble injected into his spinal cord by Dr. Langdon (Anne Heche), he turns in the M.E. for falsifying evidence.

This must be what leads to his being dismissed by the bureau, who have already proven that they will close ranks to protect their own, and the “teaser” is that Asher, speaking in Hebrew (?) meeting with the bomb maker and gets a parcel from the man. Add to this action his anti-FBI and American rhetoric and it looks like Simon may be the terrorist who framed Alex and then helped to clear her.


Or in polite parlance…Wait a minute chaps, something is not adding up here. Granted, it appears that everyone in this foray into FBI training and after is not who they say they are. On top of all these hidden agendas and fictitious backstories as well as mighty suspicious secrets, we have Caleb’s father who is about as pure as the driven slush and Liam who seems to be conveniently crawling back into the bottle when Alex learns the “truth.”

There is also the flashback portion of the show, with Dr. Langdon bringing up “blind spots” (a pretty important plot point in present day Quantico) which is meant to make Simon seem guilty as hell.

Sidenote: Both Oded Fehr and Anne Heche knock it out of the park with their guest roles.  Best bits of the episode’s storyline came from these two performers’ portion of the show. 

Anne Heche as Dr. Langdon

The clincher, in this “cliffhanger” is Alex pleading guilty to all the charges levied.  Okay, Liam has apparently talked Parrish into going for the feint, where she stays “locked up” in order to expose the real bomber, but pleading guilty, in court, in an orange jumpsuit will result in jail time sans bail (If we are to assume anything even closely resembling reality.) effectively taking her out of the search for the real terrorist. Not too mention gumming up the legal works for a long time when, and if, Liam sets matters straight. In the real world, despite the reason, someone would be in serious trouble.

Granted, Quantico is not “real life” but as the creator opted to set the show in a real world institution/organization (the FBI) certainly more than a nod to procedure and  training at the academy is required.  We all love a mystery, but this one is beginning to resemble a kitchen sink drama where everyone and everything, including the thing we hand wash our dishes and delicates in, has been thrown into the mix.

Leaving the overly long list of suspects, some of whom have been cleared…maybe…Alex pleading guilty makes the suspension of disbelief that bit more difficult to maintain.  So too, is the idea that Simon is the terrorist.  Out of all the suspects being trotted out (like a game of Clue (Cluedo) on steroids or LSD – “It was Col Mustard, Miss White, Rev Green and Professor Plum in the library with the spanner, axe, pistol, pipe!”) the most likely one, at this juncture,  is Caleb’s daddy.

This man is so desperate to have his personal emails, and Shelby’s remember, scrubbed that he even asks for one that could clear Alex to be taken care of as well. Later, the agent who sent him the message is found dead, sans phone.   The philandering husband, father and FBI bigwig should be immediately placed in the number one spot of suspect by the viewer and the “teaser” about Simon disregarded completely.

Still, the title says Guilty. So the plot of Quantico must follow the formula and place Alex in that status. Although with the current storyline Parrish has been considered guilty from minute one so is this a case of redundancy in title cleverness? She could also be incarcerated with a  plea of “not guilty” so what the heck is going on, why the overkill?

With one episode left and the first episode in 2016 being titled “Inside” it seems that this thread will run its course and Alex will go to prison, on remand till her trial, and that everyone who matters will know that she really is innocent.


Quantico airs Sundays on ABC and is suspension of disbelief is a problem…give this one a miss…Sorry Joshua Safran you lost me on this one.



Amy: A Modern Tragedy

Poster for Amy

It is difficult to watch Amy;  the Asif Kapadia documentary/biopic that is a modern tragedy about Amy Winehouse that offers a “fly-on-the-wall” look at the rise, fall and death of a young legend.  As one who watched the meteoric rise of Ms. Winehouse in England (and listened; it was nigh on impossible when Amy started “hitting” to not hear her on the radio with increasing regularity) this unflinching look at this doomed performer tends to move the viewer to tears.

Young, talented beyond her years, vulnerable and infinitely watchable in the beginning, Amy Winehouse is seen, via the auspices of personal footage shot by family and friends, first as the spotty faced youngster who wrote songs and sang them in a voice comparable to no other and then the gaunt ghost fighting hidden demons.

The grammy winning artist died, after a battle with drugs, a destructive marriage to an addicted  hanger-on who used the girl as his enabler and a father who appeared to be more interested in profiting from his daughter’s success,  in 2011. The singer/songwriter binged on alcohol and literally drank herself to death in her Camden flat in London.

To watch Amy is to relive her short life, where critics and music lovers adored the young performer and her unique sound.  Winehouse was direct, sometimes coarse and always honest, she was a breath of fresh air who took music by storm.  It is also interesting to note that the young girl opted to make her mark on a world where everyone could capture her journey on their cell (mobile) phones or HD cameras.

These glimpses of her rise and death are a reminder of just what the price of fame really is. Winehouse’s popularity and the public’s interest in her music prompted the worst of behavior from many. The paparazzi surrounded the young star like a pack of piranha during a feeding frenzy, especially after her deteriorating health and obvious drug problems.

The documentary shows just how self destructive Winehouse was. Asif shows each player in the film without artifice. Her former husband Blake Fielder-Civil is shown to be an opportunist womanizer who left Amy when her path to fame became too slow but rushed back the moment Back to Black became a hit.

Amy’s destructive  relationship with Blake is clear as is her troubled relationship with father Mitch. The man who left the girl and her mother is someone that Amy seems desperate to love. The film also shows  how the drugs began to rule her life.  Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the documentary is how the media and the industry took jabs at Winehouse’s problems.

The entertainer who set the world alight became an object of ridicule both in the press and on television.  Fame, this film tells us, is a vindictive  and two-faced b*tch.  The same people who sang Amy’s praises, i.e. TV hosts like Jay Leno, et al, began to make jokes about Winehouse’s addiction problems and downward spiral.

Perhaps the biggest message is that  Amy Winehouse was best when she was unhappy or troubled. The artist was driven to sing her songs and pursued fame doggedly while turning her problems into hit songs.  Tony Bennett, who recorded a duet with Winehouse towards the end of her life, says she had an old soul [sic} with her music.  This young woman from London had a voice like no other. Her creativity was forged in misery, Blake leaving her promoted her first real hit just as her drug problems resulted in another.

Mitch Winehouse has been very vocal about the documentary saying that Asif Kapadia has lied with his documentary and he is not the only person to make this allegation. Several British newspapers published articles saying that this short “snap” of Amy’s life and death is skewed and meant to disturb.

Watching the film is an exercise in heartbreak.  What few have mentioned is that the footage does show a playful, childlike side to this “old soul” who could mesmerize with her voice alone.  Amy Winehouse was a tragedy. Her fame, combined with a perfect storm of bad choices in love, a father that perhaps got caught up in his daughter’s fame too much and a wildly talented force doomed to sell destruct all too soon, is a cautionary tale at best.

Be careful what you wish for is too simplistic and the Icarus comparison pales when one considers that Amy Winehouse, as a songwriter and performer,  soared past the sun and stars to die in a Camden flat before she was 30 because her star was a black one, marred by humanity and a perverse interest in tearing down those we put on pedestals.

Amy may be skewed but in the end it does not really matter, as it does capture the senselessness of Winehouse’s death and the tragedy behind her success. Watch this documentary a take its message to heart, but bring a box of tissues for the tears.


Learning to Drive: A Gentle Touching Comedy of Changes (Review)

Patricia Clarkson and Sir Ben Kingsley Wendy and Darwin

Starring Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson, Learning to Drive is a gentle, touching comedy about life changes and growing up “later in life.” Directed by Isabel Coixet (who worked with the two stars earlier in Elegy – 2009) and based upon an article written by feminist author Katha Pollitt, (then turned into a screenplay by Sarah Kernochan) this could be seen as an older “chick flick.” 

In reality, the film is more of a “coming of age” tale, coming  at a time in life where sudden change can mean a temporary return to the insecurities of childhood, even when this happens to a protagonist in her mid-50s.  An unfaithful husband leaving his wife; Wendy (Clarkson)  and a man ready to marry a bride he has never met; Darwin (Kingsley) meet and change each other’s lives.

Wendy’s husband takes her to a restaurant to reveal he is leaving her. As the couple storm from the eatery and grab a cab, driven by Darwin, they argue and continue the fight that began in the restaurant.  Ted (Jake Weber) gets out and tells Darwin to drive Wendy home. Once the cab reaches her home, she gets out and leaves a parcel in the vehicle.

Darwin shows up later to return the envelope and Wendy notices he is a driving instructor as well as a cab driver. She asks for his card and decides that she now must learn to drive. Learning to Drive follows these two disparate people who each teach the other something about life, trust and observation.

Wendy is a book critic with a grown daughter and a husband who has left her for another woman, an author she actually admires. Darwin is a Sikh who was imprisoned in India and took political asylum in America. The former university professor drives a taxi cab and works as a driving instructor.

Darwin’s sister in India chooses a woman for him to marry and this means that, like Wendy, his life is now in turmoil as well. With both people facing huge changes in their separate worlds, they learn from one another. Wendy, learns to take control of  her life and Darwin learns to adapt.

This film is rich in character study and looks closely at how people interact on a personal level. We follow Wendy and Darwin during their lessons. These driving tutorials reveal much about both people and the film also peeks at their lives outside the lessons.

Kudos to Clarkson for appearing nearly nude for her “love scene” at 55. The Oscar nominated actress owns her character from frame one and the audience gets behind the woman who faces this mid life direction change because of an unfaithful husband.

Kingsley gives the sort of  relaxed performance that one expects from an Academy award winner and looks much younger than his 71 years.  Appearances aside, this is the sort of character that the actor could portray in his sleep and the chemistry between Kingsley and Clarkson is sheer magic.

Grace Gummer has a cameo as the daughter caught between the soon to be divorced parents. There is something infinitely watchable about the real life daughter of Meryl Streep. When Grace is on screen the gaze is immediately drawn to her character and when she is not in the shot, one longs for more Grace.

Jake Weber acts his socks off when he is on screen, although there is not a lot of screen time for his character as Ted becomes peripheral after the break up.

This tale of discovery is not really one “just for the girls.”  Fans of gentle comedy, with a touch of romance and a little truth will enjoy this film. Coixet’s direction is firm and she guides the story smoothly and with feeling.  The script if full of dialogue that amuses and entertains on many levels.

Learning to Drive is up for a number of awards, Best Actress, Best Actor, Director and Best Original Score. If one takes a moment to read the original article by the source author Katha Pollitt it would not be surprising if  Sarah Kernochan gets the gong for Best Adapted Screenplay. (Remember you heard it here first…)

This is an enjoyable 5 out of 5 star film.  Everyone hits the right notes to make this a touching comedy about changes that gently serves up its message.  Watch this one and smile…a lot.

Into the Badlands: Clippers; the New Samurai (Review) Stiletto Heels and Martial Arts


AMC’s new offering, Into the Badlands has “clippers” as the new samurai and is  martial arts heavy with flashing swords, Katana blades and, in at least one scene, a fight in stiletto heels.  This action drama features  beautifully choreographed fight sequences, exemplary wire work and plot that moves at a snail’ s pace.

Starring Daniel WuEmily Beecham,Marton Csokas,Orla Brady and with Avatar’s Stephen Lang as the requisite “Hollywood” star on the cast list, Into the Badlands is a hybrid series. Shakespearean with a touch of Curse of the Golden Flower, mixed with Crouching Dragon Hidden Tiger and a tinge of the Spaghetti Western mythos.

The series also appears to be Influenced by role-playing video games  but with a post-apocalyptic vibe sans zombies, nuclear wastelands and dragons. There is, however a touch of the supernatural, or even paranormal as the young M.K. (Armies Knight) eyes fill with a unnatural light when his blood is spilt and he turns into a super martial arts warrior.

Despite the very obvious Akira Kurosawa influence (Yojimbo, Seven Samurai) and the John Woo nuances, the series feels cumbersome, except for the fight scenes that are, in a word; spectacular.

Like some of the best martial arts films to come out of Hong Kong in the past decade, the fight scenes are intricate set pieces that include brilliant, and seamless, wirework and breathtaking choreography.  At one point, a character called “The Widow” (played with impressive panache by Brit actress Emily Beecham) takes on a bar full of badmen wearing almost thigh high laced boots with a stiletto heel so long and sharp is could be counted as a lethal weapon on its own.

Emily Beecham as The Widow, stiletto heels and kick-ass moves.

The cast is full of non-American actors. Most notably,  scenery chewing Kiwi actor Marton Csokas and Mancunian actress Emily Beecham (who features in the highly enjoyable, if improbable, martial arts fight scene where her character kills a number of foes whilst wearing those stiletto heels mentioned in the previous paragraph.)

Filmed in New Orleans, Louisiana, Into the Badlands has enough English actors filling “American” roles that  it is surprising that the SAG -AFTRA are not up in arms. This new action themed series also has another actor from “down under” filling a major/starring role. Although Csokas is from New Zealand and not Australia, like Blindspot‘s Sullivan Stapleton, this is, apparently the face of US television in the new millennium.

Irish actress Orla Brady as Lydia

Show creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar have given viewers a world full of modern day (Futuristic?) feudal barons who are all shoving one another in a power struggle to control the whole area.  There are, according to the verse, five barons in total, although the audience have yet to meet more than two; Quinn and the Widow.

Quinn is the son of a former worker whose father was beaten to death without ever lifting a finger in his own defense. When he got older, the lad volunteered to become a “Clipper” (this world’s version of a samurai) and kills his first man, by breaking his neck in five seconds flat.  The laborer’s son goes on to become baron and his faction grow poppies and produce drugs.

The Widow’s “oil” allows Quinn to process the poppies and at the start of this series, these two are engaged in a power play that eventually becomes a war.  Quinn has headaches and this violent man kills the family medical retainer who diagnoses his “death sentence.” We are spared the sight of the Baron killing his loyal doctor and wife, after the doc discovers that Quinn has a malignant brain tumor, but this becomes a defining moment in the life of his head clipper Sunny (Wu).

The Widow is searching for M.K. (Knight) who becomes a killing machine when bloodied.  The lad is saved from Nomads, hired by The Widow to find the boy, by Sunny who takes him to Quinn’s fort.  The boy escapes, with help from his savior, and stumbles onto the woman’s lands who wanted him kidnapped in the first place.

Armies Knight is M.K. the lad with the dark power.

There is much subterfuge and double-dealings going in, similar to  the Shakespearean in scope, Curse of the Golden Flower, Quinn is turned into cuckold by his own son, like Emperor Ping in CotGF,  and The Widow’s daughter Tilda (Ally Ioannides) helps the boy by tricking her mother. 

In terms of plot versus action, Into the Badlands may prove to be too slow for its target audience.  Infrequent fight scenes, despite being incredibly well done, may not be enough to sell the plodding storyline.  The world that Millar and Gough have created is one without guns, only a few cars (and these appear to be outdated “classics”), at least one motorcycle, a few horses and a lot of people on foot. This means a verse that will, by necessity, move slowly.

This slow approach may alienate the very audience the show wants to ensnare.  Into the Badlands is  gorgeous and lovely to look at but this may not be enough to bring viewers rushing back to see the next installment. It airs Sundays on AMC and may turn out to be as addictive as the product of Quinn’s poppies.  With a  nod to the Bard, Kurosawa and Sergio Leone, this may prove to be the best of the network’s lineup or a complete turn off.


Rotor: DR1 – A Boy and His Drone (Review) An Experiment in Community Film Making


Directed by Ohio filmmaker Chad Kapper, starring his son Christian and written by four hobby drone enthusiasts. Rotor DR1 feels a little like “A Boy and His Drone” but this experimental community film is entertaining despite its slow pace and awkward acting by some of the cast. Christian acquits himself rather well, as does his romantic interest Maya (played by Natalie Welch). 

The setting is an indeterminate time in the future after a virus has decimated the world’s population and stopped the clock on many modern conveniences. This post apocalyptic world has energy pellets as currency and the only technology that seems to still work are the pilotless, and programmed, drones that fly through otherwise quiet skies.

Kitch (Christian Kapper) is a lad whose father worked on a cure for the virus and who the boy believes is dead at the start of the film.  Finding a drone that is different from any he has seen before, leads Kitch to believe his father is still alive somewhere.

Maya (Welch), whose uncle 4C collects energy pellets, goes with Kitch on his journey to discover whether his father is alive or not. The two youngsters meet several interesting people along the way and also get caught by two of 4C’s thugs.  They enter DR1 in a drone race, escape the thugs and eventually learn the truth about the virus and Kitch’s father.

Rotor Arc Pellet
Post apocalyptic currency, rotor arc pellets…

Rotor DR1 began life as a 10 part web series that was, in essence, written by fans of hobby drones.   As the webisodes progressed the makers asked the community for feedback every step of the way. Input received from the drone community and fans of the series influenced the storyline, character arcs and the show’s finale.

After the web series ended it was then edited into a feature film format and distributed via Cinema Libre Studio.  In many ways the final product feels like an overlong student production, or like a film version of the old Andy Hardy, “lets put on a show in the barn.”

While this may make it sound like the production is amateurish, it is not. Granted many of the actors feel wooden and not a little stilted. This does not, however, detract from the story or its conclusion.  Rotor DR1 is a family film where the action has no gore or needlessly explicit violence, sex or unacceptable language.

There is no attempt to give the drones, not even DR1, a “Wally-ish” type of interaction with Kitch or Maya.  The drone prototype does have a very limited interaction with the boy, but that is facilitated via a camera attached to the machine along with an amped-up power supply and A.I. capability.

Maya (Natalie Welch) and Kitch (Christian Kapper) and DR1

What helps to sell the film and enable the viewer to overlook any shortcomings, is the voice over narration by Christian Kapper. His “internal” monologue with himself feels genuine and sincere. We believe his musings to be true because of his underplayed delivery.

Both Kapper and his costar Welch, have a good onscreen chemistry as the two disparate youngsters thrown together by their mutual interest in the mysterious drone. Their shared journey is made more interesting by their “genuine”  interaction.

The biggest complaint about the film  has to be that patchwork quilt feel as the movie was cribbed from a “group effort” based upon fan feedback.  That said, this is a fascinating experimental take on filmmaking.  Certainly the boy and his drone feel to the film keeps the audience watching in spite of the slow pace and somewhat discordant storyline.

Kapper is not a young Don Johnson and his drone cannot “talk” to  him like the Harlan Ellison inspired 1975 film A Boy and His Dog (the dog’s voice provided by Jason Robards). The boy’s search for his father and his travels are interesting though and this film does not rely upon a largely misogynistic theme or sex to maintain interest.

Rotor DR1 could almost be described as bargain basement Disney.  It is family friendly, has a tiny budget and contains nothing that is remotely controversial. This is standard fare with an interesting storyline and just enough action to keep the interest piqued throughout.  A 3.5 star film, out of 5, that is well worth the time spent watching it.